Wages and class struggle

Karl Marx’s opening line in the first chapter of Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 states that, “wages are determined by antagonistic struggle between capitalist and worker.” (p. 19)

This opening line is often cited by nominal leftists as explanation for exorbitantly high wages of many workers in the United States and throughout the First World. The explanation they reach is that First World workers receive such high wages because they have secured them as historic concessions over the course of past class struggle. But this view is narrow and has quite specific limitations.

In terms of scope, this explanatory view negates the workings of capitalism internationally. Wages of all workers have hardly risen, just those within certain spatial and social limitations (i.e., those within the First World and often part of oppressor nations). The notable idea ignored by the First Worldist viewpoint is that while class struggle certainly may have played a role in elevating the status and material fulfillment of First World workers, this class struggle may not have occurred on their part alone. Instead, the raising of wages for a limited number of worker, i.e. those mainly in the First World, was a measure to counteract not merely their own class struggle but that of the international proletariat. During the 20th century, the international proletariat advanced in their struggle in many regards. They were able to establish nominally socialist states which for a time acted as economic and political bulwarks against capitalist-imperialism. As well, the proletariat of the Third World waged several wars of liberation against direct imperialist occupation and neo-colonial puppets. It was no doubt such heightened class struggle which played a large role in determining the wages of First World countries, so as the secure their passivity and tacit support of the system at the moment it was facing its greatest challenges from the international proletariat movement. Continue reading